Ok, this is a bit of a deviation from the ‘oh look, pretty’ stuff I’ve been posting lately but I can’t not post these photos. These were taken by a friend on the Howard College campus of UKZN this morning. They document a small part of the protest that has been ongoing at the campus since Wednesday of last week. We are told from various sources that the protest is centred on housing and financial aid, and certainly students of UKZN do have a rough deal where these two are concerned. They have every right to make their voices heard on these issues. The problem I have with this is that, unless the university is for some reason deliberately keeping mum about it, neither the student body in general nor the SRC have actually communicated a memorandum regarding the protest to anyone. The university claims they have not been approached to try and resolve the protest peacefully. The university also did not do anything concrete during the course of last week to call a halt to the assaults and intimidation going hand in hand with the protest. I have read first-hand reports of lectures being forcibly disrupted, students threatened if they did not leave lectures, lecturers assaulted, and windows and equipment broken. Rumours abound of stabbings and more serious assaults. During all of this neither SAPS, who were present on campus, nor UKZN Risk Management Services appear to have stepped in. From today’s photos, it appears that SAPS have called in the riot squad, but this doesn’t seem to have prevented further assaults and damage to property.

Now we all know that the UKZN SRC is almost entirely composed of ANCYL members. Fine and well. And what does the ANCYL think of these members wearing yellow t-shirts emblazoned with JZ’s face while conducting this apparently haphazard, riotous protest? I’m particularly interested in what they would have to say about the many yellow shirts in the photo showing a journalist being threatened for taking photos – my photographer friend was (as you can see) right behind her when this happened, and backed away quite quickly as soon as security stepped in to remove the journalist from the scene. Of course, I’d expect Malema to be 100% behind this kind of behaviour, but I would hope that more seasoned and reasonable ANC members would quickly understand that this protest is a) looking a whole lot more like a display of ANC power than a genuine student protest and b) embarrassing the ANC by its failure to contain violence and mayhem and its inability to properly communicate the issues at stake even to the students taking part in the protest (first-hand accounts suggest that many students are simply going along for the ride and have absolutely no idea what is being protested).

So we have here a university that is unwilling or unable to step in to stop this kind of malicious damage to person and property, even though this protest clearly has not been dealt with properly from the word ‘go’. And a political organisation that, on the face of it, is supporting this kind of behaviour, perhaps even encouraging it, for the apparent purpose of displaying its muscle to those who might consider defecting to other parties. I won’t hold my breath for a public condemnation of this protest, either from the university or the ANC, but I shouldn’t have to. They should have stepped in before it went this far.

The crowd faces off against a riot squad that seems unable to actually hold them back.

The crowd faces off against a riot squad that seems unable to actually hold them back.

How to distinguish this from an ANC rally?

How to distinguish this from an ANC rally?

A journalist is told to stop taking photos. Note the guy reaching out to grab her leg.

A journalist is told to stop taking photos. Note the guy reaching out to grab her leg.

This weekend brought a fresh twist to the ongoing saga that is eThekwini’s refusal to acknowledge their responsibility to people displaced by xenophobia. Our site monitors reported that “On Saturday, 5 July, Mr Manzi Mlungisa from Disaster Management came and told the refugees at the refugee camp that they are on their own as from Monday (7 July). They will come tomorrow and take away the tents and the refugees must leave and fend for themselves. He said that the City is not going to protect anyone anymore. He said that there have been no incidents of xenophobia.”

This despite the fact that our monitors reported last week that people in the temporary shelter at Cato Manor had actually been threatened on site.

So are we imagining that there are still xenophobic threats being made against these people? I doubt it. South Africa’s well-documented history of xenophobia is not going to change overnight just because Thabo Mbeki says everything is fine now. But let’s, for a moment, just assume that the good people of Durban are not planning to threaten, maim or kill these foreign nationals the minute they leave the shelters. Does that make it alright for the City to just dump them on the streets and tell them to get on with their lives? Most of these people have been in shelter for five to six weeks. They lost their homes and jobs (if they had any). They are traumatised and, with good reason or not, remain afraid for their lives. The least the City can do is assist them to reintegrate peacefully into communities, wouldn’t you think?

And if we don’t? Well, what’s 200 more homeless, desperate people on our streets. It’s not like they might turn to crime to feed their children, or be the victims of violence, or incite violence themselves. They’ll just dissappear, right? And then eThekwini can return to being a model municipality that takes care of all its citizens.

The Leaf Blower has a thoughtful blog post about the bureaucratic response in the Western Cape. Seems we are all in the same boat.

Part of my morning routine includes a trawl of the interwebs for news and titbits that interest me and may interest my friends. My interests are pretty varied, so I get around a bit. Last week featured the absolutely delightful Where the hell is Matt 2008, which I think I may need to watch again if I aim to make it through this week without spiralling into depression. What? you may ask. Let’s get into what this morning’s trawl yielded:

A few blog entries on the subject of Snohetta’s winning the competition to design the King AbdulAziz Center for Knowledge and Culture in Saudi Arabia. Snohetta are a marvellous architectural firm and I’m crazy for many of their designs (and a shout out to my excellent friend Mr Spurrett for pointing me in their direction). This one is actually very beautiful, and I do hope that it does get built. But a center for knowledge and culture in Saudi Arabia? Really? ‘Cause it looks to me more like the ‘King AbdulAziz Center for how I’m so rich I can spend craploads of money on glorifying myself through architecture’.

Pressing on, I found the intertubes vastly obsessed with some guy named Dmitri who allegedly left a totally psycho voice message on some girl’s phone. Actually, two totally psycho messages. I can’t even bring myself to link to it. JFGI if you must.

As ever, my favourite launchpads featured at least one entry each regarding people in the US or UK being hassled by cops or pseudocops for taking photographs or video. This whole thing is getting really weird. Did you know that people are regularly being hassled just for photographing or filming in a public place? Seriously: this guy has it on video. I mean, does this bother you all? Because I’m finding it increasingly disturbing.

And then there’s privacy issues. I picked this one up on Boing Boing this morning. And this is so not the weirdest one I’ve seen so far. It’s enough to throw me into high paranoia.

Last, but not least, there’s Zimbabwe. Oh Zimbabwe. We wait today to see whether the African Union will do anything at all. We’re not holding our collective breath, are we? Especially since they haven’t done anything about this guy – and I’m going to presume it’s because, for reasons I can guess at but don’t want to think about, he doesn’t get quite as much publicity as Mr Mugabe. Sorry, President-for-life Mugabe. Of course, you can always visit the website of the Zimbabwe government and leave your feedback. I’m sure they’d be pleased to hear from all of us.

So, this Monday morning, it appears to me that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I’m not feeling cheery. I’m going to watch Matt dance his way around the world and hope it cheers me up a little.

So in the last couple of days I’ve been phoning around to some of the sites that have been sheltering displaced people. The group I’ve been working with, Durban Action Against Xenophobia, have some food donations and we wanted to check where they were most needed. Several police stations I called said they had nobody sheltering there any longer, but they had no idea where the people had gone (?). Then I called one of the Zimbabwean refugees who had been at a police station in Inanda. He said that they had all been chased away from the police station and were ‘hiding’ (his word, used repeatedly) in various places. He also said that he personally had recently been threatened again by ‘men with guns’ and was in hiding himself. Naturally, considering what’s going on there at the moment, none of these Zimbabweans are spectacularly keen to be repatriated.

Then I called a few churches. I had the same conversation about five times. It went something like this

Me: I’m just calling to find out if you still have anyone sheltering at your church, and what we might be able to do to help.

Church representative: Can you find somewhere else for these people to stay? We can’t shelter them any longer. Our facilities are not up to it and we really need the hall for the upcoming children’s camp/ holiday programme/ etc.

Me: I’m afraid we can’t help with that at the moment. Have you been in contact with Disaster Management or with Province?

CR: We’ve been visited by everyone – Disaster Management, Province, the UN. We told them all we have to get the people out this week. They haven’t done anything.

Me: How much longer can you keep the people there?

CR: They will have to go tomorrow/by Friday at the latest. We don’t know what to do, the authorities promised to help but they’re not doing anything. We can’t continue.

Five times I had this conversation. One guy said he was considering putting all the displaced people on a bus, bussing them into town and depositing them in the foyer of City Hall. I think that might just be an idea.

Where is the City? Where is Disaster Management? Where is Province? Mike Sutcliffe tells us this is all under control. It is very much not!

South Africa is exploding before our eyes. First Atteridgeville, then Alexandra and Diepsloot. Over the weekend mob violence left the Johannesburg CBD looking like a war-zone. Looking, in fact, like Kigali or Nairobi looked not so long ago. Government condemns the xenophobia, but this is not just xenophobia. Venda, Shona, Pedi, even Zulu-speaking South Africans fear for their lives in the chaos that has erupted. Meanwhile, at the Sandton Convention Centre, a conference on Local Economic Development begins today. Representatives from municipal, provincial and national government and NGOs are gathering to attend workshops by international economists on how to grow local economies through encouraging export growth. Is there something wrong here? You bet. Police were strangely absent in Pretoria this morning as SAFM’s reporter watched people fleeing oncoming mobs carrying sticks and throwing stones. Perhaps they had all been deployed to Sandton to protect the conference delegates.

At the beginning of last week there was a suggestion that the attacks in Alex had been deliberately incited by a ‘third force’. This notion was quickly (and rightly) dismissed by Justice Minister Bridget Mbandla. Her reasoning was that if this was some sort of attempt at undermining stability in the country, we would have seen attacks of this nature everywhere, and not only in Alex. Well, they’re not caused by third force activity and they’re not on the scale of what we saw in Alex, Atteridgeville and Diepsloot recently, but every day there are countless examples of xenophobia countrywide. There was the supermarket cashier who I witnessed loudly and rudely berating a customer because he asked for cigarettes in an African language she didn’t understand – oddly I could hear perfectly well what he was asking for since ’30 Peter Stuyvesant’ sounds pretty much the same no matter what your accent. When I took her to task for being so rude to a customer she was unabashed – he was foreign and she didn’t want to serve him and that was that. Then there are the countless times Zimbabwean colleagues have been refused entry to a taxi because they couldn’t speak local languages, or the times comments have been openly made that they should ‘go home’ because they aren’t wanted here.

Dr Emmanuel Nyakarashi of the Refugee Ministries Centre was quoted in a recent Cape Argus article, saying “This is not a new phenomenon – it’s been happening for some time. But it has never been given the due attention it deserves.” He went on to say that our government has failed to properly educate South Africans about foreigners seeking refuge in our country, and South Africa’s duty towards them. He’s absolutely right, but this is not the only failure of our government.

In his ‘Monday Morning Matters’ column in The Times of May 19, Justice Malala identified the many failures of our government over the past ten years which have led us here. Not least among these is the failure to deal with the situation in Zimbabwe decisively at any point. A country in chaos just across the border is surely a recipe for disaster at home. Even without this catalyst, though, South Africa has been falling apart at the seams – energy crises, rising food prices, government corruption, rampant crime, a failing job market, and that’s just the beginning. The poor of our country are becoming increasingly desperate, and they are looking for someone to blame. How long will it be before they realise that the people they are looking for are not their neighbours in the squatter camps and townships, but the fat cats sitting snugly behind their high walls in Houghton and Sandton?

Just as Mbeki and others have maintained we should support Robert Mugabe, no matter what he does, because his government once provided refuge to our own exiles during apartheid, the people of South Africa don’t want to accuse ‘struggle heroes’ of selling out their own people, of kowtowing to Northern countries’ interests, of lining their own pockets. Just as Mugabe clearly no longer represents the people of Zimbabwe but only his own interests, many of South Africa’s leaders seem to have lost touch with the people they were elected to represent. So, early on, politicians were quick to blame a ‘third force’ or a ‘criminal element’ for what was happening in Alexandra. Now, it is clear, they can’t escape the xenophobia tag, but they will cling to that to avoid the big question of why our people turning on their neighbours and their fellow citizens; the answer to that has been clear all along.

Mbeki’s government has been accused of selling the people of South Africa out to foreign interests, accepting many of the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and IMF that all over Africa have led to increased poverty, inequality and, ultimately, rioting and mass protest. The conference opening in Sandton today hosts yet another round of ‘expert advisors’ on international economic development. What we need is not international development; it is South African and African development. Mbeki talks of an African Renaissance, but his leadership is sending us into a dark age. Mbeki’s Pan-Africanism has failed perhaps precisely because, for all his talk of brotherhood, he seems to have forgotten about his brothers and sisters at home.